Making a Global Impact: Juniata Delegation Attends UN Climate Change Conference
(Posted November 19, 2021)
HUNTINGDON, Pa. — As the eyes of the world followed the news coming from the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, United Kingdom, a delegation of Juniata College faculty and students were in attendance as an observer organization.
Two years ago, Matthew Powell, professor of geology, and Dennis Plane, professor of politics, who co-teach the course, “Global Climate Change,” began the process of applying for observer status and an invitation to the conference commonly referred to the COP26.
“We talk about the international processes for addressing climate change in class. That sparked our interest to apply,” says Plane. “We knew the process was happening and happened every year, and we knew observing organizations could attend.”
Plane and Powell researched and began the lengthy application process.
“You apply through the United Nations and have to demonstrate your commitment to climate issues as an institution. If you are accepted, you are considered an observer and are permitted to go to the negotiations,” says Powell. “There are moments of participation. It’s a fairly unique thing to build civil society into the negotiations. They want that participation.”
In early August 2021, approval to observe was received, and two students from the Global Climate Change course, Saraly Gonzalez ’22, and Kali Pupo ’22, were selected to attend COP 26 along with Professors Powell and Plane
“It was important to me because it introduced me to the varying conversations and conflicts within this field of work. The mountains of Central Pennsylvania might make the future of climate change disasters feel far away, but we are running out of time to act,” Gonzalez says. “It challenged my current thoughts and gave me a new perspective. Without being in attendance, I wouldn’t have been able to fully understand the multitude of moving parts working toward climate solutions. My main takeaway was that the most powerful way to fight climate change is from the grassroots, rather than relying on those at the top.”
Powell observed that media coverage of global conferences like COP26 tend to gravitate toward outcomes rather than the process.
“It was like nothing I’ve ever been to before,” he says. “What jumped out at me most was the sense of urgency, purpose, and commitment to solving the climate crisis within the negotiation rooms. From the outside looking in, you see a lot of inaction — countries not doing as much as they ought in order to reach the targets. I didn’t see that in the negotiating room. I saw dedicated people trying to make the world a better place.”
The negotiation process at COP26 differs from the commonly-accepted majority rules in that 100 percent approval is required for a decision to be adopted.
“This was a great example for students to observe so they could understand how the international negotiation process works,” Plane says. “The countries of the world are absolutely convinced that climate change is a problem. Everyone wants to attain a solution, but there is less consensus on what that looks like and who will pay for it.”
The parties involved continue their work until all are in agreement, which means compromise and sometimes vague proposals rather than hard promises.
“Despite that, there is progress. I came away feeling more optimistic. This is a process that yields positive outcomes despite having the deck stacked against it,” says Powell. “I felt good about taking undergraduates to this world-changing event. Being able to bring students to this and getting their perspective is an incredible opportunity.”
The result of COP26 was the Glasgow Climate Pact, negotiated through consensus of the representatives of the 197 attending parties (nations). A call to end coal power and fossil fuel subsidies was ultimately weakened, but the pact is the first climate deal to explicitly commit to reducing the use of coal.
“The main theme of COP26 is clear. The time for promises is over — now is the time for action,” says Pupo. “COP 26 was a fantastic place to interact with a diverse group of people who are all fighting for climate action through various means and for various reasons. I’ve learned a great deal about the process of global climate negotiations, but I’m positive I’ve only scratched the surface of the expansive and complex challenges we face if we want to save our planet.”
The trip was sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost at Juniata.
“It was a great honor to be represented. There were some other colleges and universities who sent delegations, but not many,” Plane says. “It showed a commitment to environmental stewardship on behalf of the college in terms of climate change and the hope of continued efforts to promote sustainability and carbon footprint reduction. It shows the College wants to move in a direction that is healthy for the climate and the planet.”
Contact April Feagley at firstname.lastname@example.org or (814) 641-3131 for more information.